by Elizabeth Strout
Ack. This is one of those books that I just didn’t get. Apparently, it’s longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and named one of the best books of the year by all sorts of prestigious publications. I didn’t feel it.
The story is told in the first person. Lucy Barton, now past her prime, recounts a time many years ago when she was a young mother and became very ill and spent nine weeks in the hospital. During that time, her mother, from whom she had been estranged for many years, comes to visit her and stays for five days and nights, sitting at Lucy’s bedside. During those five days and nights, mother and daughter warily try to heal old wounds, without actually facing them head on. Lucy also revisits scenes from her childhood, many of which were painful (there is a scene in which she was repeatedly locked in a truck for hours by her parents when she was very small, that was quite unsettling). Lucy comes to understand her mother perhaps a little better (though her mother is stubbornly enigmatic and closed off), and perhaps herself a little better, but there really is never any resolution, and her mother ends her visit as suddenly as she showed up.
I think what bugged me is that Lucy very much seems like a victim, and she never really rises above that. She reverts to behaving like a little girl in her mother’s presence and is never able to stand up to her mother. I’m drawn to stories about fraught mother-daughter relationships because they often resonate with me, but this one fell a little flat. I finished the story wondering “What was the point of that?”
Elizabeth Strout is a gifted novelist, but this one just didn’t do it for me.